Many broadband network operators, including Vumatel, Supersonic, FibrePoynt, and Isizwe, are rolling out affordable uncapped Internet services in underserved areas.
Fibre network operators have done an exceptional job to improve coverage in South Africa, but despite the strong growth in recent years many households still do not have access to fibre.
Because of the high cost to roll out fibre, most low-income areas like townships were not targeted by fibre network operators. This leaves them without affordable uncapped broadband.
This is, however, changing with many new initiatives to bring affordable fibre, or fibre-like broadband access, to these areas.
Vumatel was first to enter this market in 2019 through its Vuma Reach fibre concept in Mitchells Plain.
Vuma Reach tested the financial feasibility to offer uncapped fibre-to-the-home services in lower LSM suburbs.
As part of the project, Vumatel launched a prepaid platform as traditional fibre price points and contracts were not feasible in Mitchells Plain.
The Vuma Reach project was far more successful than anticipated and exceeded its initial business targets.
For the business model to work, Vumatel had to reach 30% penetration in 12 months in areas which they covered. They easily exceeded this target.
In the first four zones in Mitchells Plain, Vuma Reach achieved 60% penetration in less than a year. In some zones, 60% connected homes was achieved between 250 and 300 days.
The success of Vuma Reach showed there was strong demand for uncapped broadband in low-income areas, and that it was possible to serve these areas profitably.
This opened the door for many other broadband providers, including Supersonic, to also set their sights in these underserved areas.
Earlier this month, Supersonic started its first commercial AirFibre rollouts in Soweto, Mamelodi, Fairlands, and Honeydew.
AirFibre offers customers fibre-like connectivity with uncapped data at download speeds of between 5Mbps and 100Mbps.
It uses radio technology which is capable of data transfer on existing open spectrum frequencies, which lower the cost to serve customers.
The new wireless offering promises consistent download speeds, low latency, and uncapped data with the customer only requiring the installation of an A4-sized antenna at their home.
Supersonic managing director Calvin Collet said the demand for AirFibre has been nothing short of amazing and reflected the critical need for high quality Internet across the country.
“With AirFibre, we have found a cost-effective solution to help close the digital divide,” Collett said.
Another company driving affordable Internet access is Isizwe, which is currently wrapping up an economic feasibility study for a project making use of TV white space as wireless backhaul to public Wi-Fi zones.
Having rolled out proof-of-concept projects in Tsaneen in Limpopo, Botha’s Hill in Kwazulu-Natal, and Munsieville in Gauteng, the use of TV white space shows great commercial promise.
Tim Genders, CEO of Isizwe Advisory Services, believes what South Africa really needs is for every home to be connected to fibre.
There is a problem, however. At best South Africa is looking at a ten-year rollout period. In the meantime, the digital divide becomes a chasm.
To address this issue, Genders and his team at Isizwe are working with communities and ICT role-players to roll out uncapped Wi-Fi in low-income areas, available at R5 a day.
“We believe that a R5 coin is all that should be needed to allow every person access to a world of information,” said Genders.
Another broadband initiative aimed at providing affordable uncapped broadband in under-served areas is FibrePoynt.
FibrePoynt has recently received funding from the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) to expand its high-speed fixed broadband solution.
FibrePoynt offers wireless Internet access through strategically placed access points called Janus Consumer Access Points (JCAPs).
These dual-beam Wi-Fi JCAPs use a “corridor coverage” system which covers streets in a neighbourhood rather than delivering blanket coverage through a single tower.
FibrePoynt can provide speeds of 100Mbps to residences which each have an outdoor antenna linked to an indoor router as Customer Premises Equipment (CPE).
The infrastructure cost is around 40% lower than fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and the CPE installation is around 50% cheaper per consumer.
FibrePoynt has also launched HomePoynt – a derivative innovation spun out of the core FibrePoynt wireless technology.
HomePoynt is a last-mile connectivity solution that has the potential to bring down internet costs to R89 a month for uncapped Wi-Fi.